The Johnson County Museum recently relocated to its new home at 8788 Metcalf Avenue. The new Arts & Heritage Center allows the museum to spread out a little, which provides a pleasant experience for visitors. The museum is open Monday through Saturday with an admission cost of $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children. They offer daily tours at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, which are included in the admission price. We bypassed the tour, since I like to be able to move back and forth between exhibits. We did have a tour pass us, and overheard a little of the quite informative dialogue.
The Early Days
Johnson County was one of the first areas established in the Kansas Territory. Originally part of the Osage Indian lands, it was made a portion of the Shawnee Indian Reservation, after their removal from the east. Later, they would be forced to relocate once again, but southward to Oklahoma territory. In 1839, the Shawnee Methodist Mission was founded by Thomas Johnson, from whom the county name derived. The mission would serve as the state capitol for a short time during 1855-1856. Johnson was a slave owner, and strongly sided with the pro-slavery group during the years leading up to the Civil War.
The eastern edge of Kansas was rife with conflict before and during the Civil War. Abolitionists and pro-slavery advocates sparred back and forth across the state divide. Many of the skirmishes would escalate into guerrilla attacks or even mass raids. The term “Bleeding Kansas” was used to describe the period leading up to the vote on whether slavery would be allowed in the new state. Many people are aware of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, but he also conducted raids on Spring Hill and Olathe. Local businesses were destroyed and multiple lives were lost. The abolition side had James Henry Lane, a man who used similar tactics during strikes in Missouri on pro-slavery soil. One particular event occurred in Osceola, Missouri, and many believe became the impetus for Quantrill’s attack on Lawrence.
The county continued to be primarily rural through the balance of the 19th century. Of course, plans were developing in the background that would forever alter the future of this county. In 1914, developer J.C. Nichols built the Mission Hills Country Club to attract influential residents to leave Kansas City, Missouri. Moderate growth continued in Johnson County until the start of World War II.
Fueling The War Machine
In 1941, the Sunflower Ordnance Works was constructed near Desoto, which is on the western side of Johnson County. At the time, it was the world’s largest smokeless powder plant. During World War II the plant, under the direction of the Hercules Powder Company, would produce over 200 million pounds of material. It was also one of the largest employers around, with a payroll of over 12,000 at its peak. After the war ended, the plant was placed on standby, but saw renewed activity during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
After World War II ended, a flood of veterans returned to the Kansas City metro. With a renewed need for housing, development in Johnson County exploded. Newly constructed highways allowed easier access to the rural areas. The Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education put an end to school segregation, but created a sudden exodus of primarily white families from the urban core. The pace of this migration continued to increase through the 1980’s. Between 1990 and 2010, Johnson County saw an increase of 10,000 residents per decade and became the most heavily populated county in the state of Kansas.
A Bit of Nostalgia
The Johnson County Museum hosts a nice collection of artifacts from the various stages of the county’s history. To give a perspective of the increased size of their new home, the 1950’s All Electric House has been moved inside of the complex. We enjoy looking at all of the “futuristic” amenities that were showcased in those days. It’s no wonder that so many were flocking to the new subdivisions. As we made our way through the house, we noticed displays of everyday items that are still produced today, although the packaging has changed a little.
In one corner of the museum we found the old White Haven Motor Lodge sign. This “motel” was located on Metcalf Avenue from 1957 until 2010. It sat on what was a dairy farm, prior to the new development by Hugh and Mary White. The first phase of the development was creating the White Haven subdivision, which runs from Metcalf to Lamar and from 83rd to 87th Streets. The motel retained its classic 1950’s style, so popular with customers.
On the other end of the museum is Kidscape. This large space is designed for kids of all ages. (I like to play with the grandkids when we visit.) Here kids are free to use their imagination to travel through time. A farmhouse and grounds allow eager hands to create farm-to-table meals in an old style kitchen. Nearby the extras can be taken to market to be sold. A theater has a stage set for amazing performances, with a dressing room nearby. The old school helps keep the mind sharp, but after classes kids can head over to the restaurant to create some treats. We find ourselves in this area for as long as we will allow the grandkids to remain. You may want to keep that in mind when planning your next visit to the Johnson County Museum.